Let me start by saying I am a true omnivore. When given the opportunity to try something new, I will dig right in. Dining out for me is always an adventure and a pleasure. However, when eating out with my vegetarian friends, I have noticed at many restaurants that they are often relegated to a single pasta primavera dish at the bottom of the menu. And if we’ve gone to a vegetarian restaurant, I often feel unsatisfied.
As a chef I can empathize with the kitchen; it is easy to make meat taste good. Humans are genetically predisposed to love meat’s inherent umami. The fat carries flavors well and if you add enough salt and cook things at the proper temperature, the meat on the plate is going to satisfy a lot of diners.
As many try to limit the amount of meat they consume, be it for environmental, health or humanitarian reasons, I hope restaurants will embrace a variety of vegetarian selections to offer diners a wider choice of options. Below I explore the Coachella Valley vegetarian restaurants where a meat eater also can have a delicious and satisfying meal, and the non-vegetarian restaurants where my vegetarian friends have ample choices.
NATIVE FOODS CAFE
1775 E. Palm Canyon Drive
The original location of this small vegan chain of restaurants is here in south Palm Springs. With a wide range of choices that never fail to impress, the menu includes sandwiches that reference meat. There’s the Meatball Sub made with seitan (high protein wheat gluten), as well as more traditional entrees and sides. I prefer vegetarian food that celebrates what it is as opposed to trying to be a meat substitute. But even without any actual cheese, the vegan Cashew Mac & Cheese is a real standout with a distinct nuttiness and creamy texture that hits all the right notes for me.
Native Foods’ bacon cheeseburger made entirely of plants. (Photo: Submitted)
Another star is the BBQ Pulled Jackfruit sandwich. If you’re unfamiliar with it, jackfruit is a staple of Southeast Asian cuisine. Hailed as the next “miracle” food, its high amount of protein and other nutrients could stave off malnutrition for millions of people. Young jackfruit has a meat-like texture and absorbs flavors well. Paired with tangy BBQ sauce and crunchy coleslaw, this sandwich is extremely satisfying.
Be sure and try the paella. Slow-roasted onions, grilled zucchini with just the right amount of char, and peas over rice redolent with turmeric and peppers, this is exactly the kind of vegetarian food I want to eat. So good you forget it is good for you.
Make sure you check out the selection of Agua frescas. The lavender lemonade and the blueberry hibiscus are both tasty.
515 N. Palm Canyon Drive
Not strictly vegetarian, MOD café offers lots of vegetarian and vegan choices. With an emphasis on clean eating it can also prepare just about any menu item gluten-free.
I am a fan of the Tempeh (cultured soy protein) Ruben. This is a luscious sandwich that doesn’t feel overly healthy. The earthiness of the rye bread and richness of the tempeh tempers the acidity of the sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing nicely.
A selection of tacos is another great choice. Try the white bean and roasted hibiscus, the potato, nopales (grilled cactus) and mock chorizo, or the calamari with kimchi (for the pescatarians). At $3 apiece you really can’t go wrong. They’re all tremendously satisfying.
The Macrobiotic Bowl is another favorite: black beans, quinoa and tons of vegetables over brown rice. This really hits the spot. I like to add an egg to give the dish additional protein and creaminess.
Make sure you try the Pitaya Lemonade, either virgin or with vodka. Pitaya is another superfood that has recently gained popularity, so you can try it as a cocktail and not feel guilty. Its gorgeous electric fuchsia color will let everyone in the restaurant know just how stylish and health-conscious you are.
CHEF TANYA’S KITCHEN
706 S. Eugene Road
Located in an industrial neighborhood, to say this lunch counter is off the beaten path is a bit of an understatement. Whether you’re a desert resident or visitor, I urge you to put the address in your GPS and go eat some of the delicious creations Tanya serves up.
Chef Tanya’s Kitchen storefront in Palm Springs. (Photo: Zoe Meyers/The Desert Sun)
Start with the soup selection which changes daily. During a recent visit, a spinach, potato and fresh corn medley was offered. Absolutely wonderful. This soup was seasoned to the edge without over-salting. The vegetable stock had a richness to it that mirrored a well-made bone broth. With lots of perfectly cooked spinach and corn, you know this soup isn’t sitting in a warmer waiting for someone to order it.
Tanya’s offers many great salad options. The Coachella Forever with quinoa, beans, avocado and pepitas in a mango dressing is tart and satisfying — the perfect lunch on one of our hot desert afternoons. Or get the Awesome Threesome and try a variety of deli salads. You won’t be disappointed.
The real standouts here are the hot pressed sandwiches. My two favorites are the Cubano and the Chupacabra. Trust me: you will be back for either of them. Both sandwiches are made with seitan, on crusty rolls that stand up to the other tasty ingredients.
The Cubano with crispy garlic seitan is reminiscent of traditional Cubanos I have eaten. With lots of mustard and crispy pickles this sandwich has a citrusy tang that plays exceptionally well with the richness of crispy seitan. Similarly, the Chupacabra keeps me coming back. Creamy avocado, house-pickled jalapenos and roasted onions make this sandwich something special.
Tanya’s also offers weekly vegetarian dinners available for takeout. For $12.95 you get an entrée and salad. Although the restaurant is a relative newcomer to the Palm Springs dining scene, Tanya has been in the Coachella Valley for a while and clearly knows the secrets to making vegetarian food that is packed with flavor.
LG’S PRIME STEAKHOUSE
255 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
78525 Highway 111, Suite 100, La Quinta
You’re probably thinking a temple of meat is no place to take a vegetarian, and I would have been right with you until my sister-in-law, a vegetarian yoga instructor, clued me in to how vegetarian-friendly steak houses can be.
If you are avoiding meat, it is all about the sides at LG’s. Because the steaks are all served ala carte, ordering a few sides can really make for a fantastic meal. Whenever my sister and her family are in town we order one steak for the table (always perfectly cooked, I might add), and enough sides and salads to satisfy everyone.
Begin with the Beet Salad; the sweetness of the beets, and richness of the pistachios and goat cheese compliment the tangy champagne vinaigrette nicely and make a refreshing start to your meal. I can’t walk into a steak house without ordering onions rings, and LG’s does not disappoint — thick-cut, crispy, golden-brown and delectable.
Another perennial favorite is the Creamed Spinach. This is the stuff of your mid-century fantasy: creamy and garlicy with just a hint of nutmeg — simply delightful. The Mac and Cheese is another great choice. Combine it with the Sautéed Mushrooms or Roasted Brussels Sprouts and you have a delightful meal.
Most people can agree that cutting back on the amount of meat you consume has both health and environmental benefits. Whether you’re a full-fledged vegetarian, experimenting with Meatless Mondays, or simply enjoy dining out with your vegetarian friends, keep these restaurants top of mind.
$ – One person can get a meal for under $15.
$$ – One person can get a meal for under $25.
$$$ – One person can get a meal for under $40.
$$$$ – One person can get a meal for $40 and up.
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